by Thomas Watson
"Keep yourselves from idols!" 1 John 5:21
IDOLATRY is a soul-damning error! In the law, God
laid claim to the fat of the sacrifice, Leviticus 3:3. Just so, all
divine worship, which is the fat of the sacrifice, the Lord will have
peculiarly reserved for Himself; whereas the idolater gives that to the idol
which is due to God. Idolatry is spiritual adultery. Ezekiel 23:37,
"With their idols have they committed adultery!" Idolatry opens the sluice
to all God's judgments; therefore, the Jews used to say in all the
punishments which befell them—there was an ounce of the golden calf
Our nature is as prone to idolatry—as dry wood is to take
fire. This plague is catching. The Jews "made cakes to offer to the
Queen of Heaven. And they gave drink offerings to their other idol gods!"
Jeremiah 7:18. Rather than not worship something, men will worship the
devil! Leviticus 17:7, "They must no longer offer their sacrifices to the
goat-demons that they have prostituted themselves with." In the Hebrew, it
is "to the hairy ones," because the devils appeared to them in
the form of satyrs or goats.
Let all God's people, as they prize their salvation,
beware of idolatry. It is remarkable when the Apostle has said, "You are the
temple of the living God," he adds presently, "What agreement has the temple
of God with idols?" and verse 17, "Come out from among them, and be
separate, says the Lord."
And what is POPERY,
but Romish idolatry? That God's living temples may not be defiled with
idolatry of the church of Rome, I shall show some of the chief teachings in
Popery, and anatomize that religion a little. And, when I am done, I think
everyone should abhor that cheat of Rome, and say of the papists, as
once Jacob did of Simeon and Levi, brethren in evil, Genesis 49:6, "May I
never enter their council; may I never join their assembly!"
1. The first popish doctrine is, that the pope is
appointed by Christ to be the head of the church, and that he is the
Vicar of Christ upon earth. This contradicts Scripture,
which call Christ expressly the head of the Church, Colossians 2:19,
Ephesians 5:23. For the pope to be head would be to make the church
monstrous—to have two heads. I read of a beast rising up out of the sea, and
the dragon gave him his power and his authority. Revelation 13:1. By the
beast I understand Antichrist; and the dragon giving him power, that is,
Satan giving power to the pope to exercise his papal greatness. If, then,
the pope is the beast, he is very unfit to be the head of the church.
2. The second popish doctrine is the Mass, which
is gross idolatry. Herein there are two errors:
The first error of the mass is
transubstantiation. The papist's hold that the host or
bread in the sacrament, after the words of consecration, is turned into
the very body of Christ! This is against reason. A body, having its
dimensions, cannot be in several places at once. If Christ's body is locally
and physically in heaven, then it cannot be in the bread—but it is in
heaven. Acts 3:21, "Whom the heavens must receive until the time of
restitution of all things." That the bread is not turned into the body of
Christ, I prove thus. If the bread is the very body of Christ—then all who
eat the bread in the sacrament receive Christ; but that is not so, for the
Apostle said of some, they did "eat and drink their own damnation," 1
Corinthians 11:27. The fathers were against this opinion of the corporal
presence of Christ in the host. We eat Christ's body, said Cyprian,
sacramentally by faith. "This is My body," that is, a sign and
figure of my body, said Tertullian.
The second error of the mass is the papist's
daily offer up Christ by way of sacrifice in the
mass. This reflects dishonor upon Christ's priestly office—as if
His sacrifice on the cross was imperfect. Hebrews 10:12, "This man after He
had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the
right hand of God;" verse 14, "For by one offering He has perfected forever
those who are sanctified." Behold the completeness of Christ's sacrifice. He
has finished His work, and there remains nothing for us now, but to believe
3. The third popish error, is that they hold the
Scriptures are not for the common people. They lock them up in
Latin—an unknown language. They make the Scripture a book sealed. Faith
comes by knowledge—but they, as Christ said, "take away the key of
knowledge," Luke 11:52. If the Bible is searched into by the common people,
it is a crime and is brought into the inquisition. God would have the
Law read before all Israel in their hearing, Deuteronomy 31:11. Therefore,
surely it was not to be in an unknown language. The prince of Rome does as
the prince of the air—he blinds men's eyes—and then leads them to
execution! 2 Corinthians 4:4.
4. The fourth error in the church of Rome, is their
doctrine of satisfaction for sin. They exalt human nature
and make it copartner with Christ in Justification. They hold that we, in
our own persons, satisfy God's justice by penance, fasting, and good deeds.
So said the council of Trent and the Rhemists. But where does the Scripture
mention any such thing? Our confession of sin is no satisfaction for
sin. If a traitor confesses his guilt, his confession does not satisfy
justice for his treason. Our contrition is not satisfaction for sin.
If a man is sorry that he owes such a debt, this does not at all satisfy for
the debt. God's justice receives no satisfaction, except through Christ. The
publican "smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner!"
Luke 18:13. Here was a confession, a sinner; and contrition, he smote upon
his breast—but it was far from satisfaction for his sin; therefore, he cries
out for mercy, "God be merciful to me."
5. A fifth soul-poisoning doctrine in popery, is their
distinction of mortal and venial sins. Mortal
sins, they say, such as perjury, adultery, murder—cast us out of God's
favor and deserve damnation. But venial sins are such as somewhat
displease God—yet do not deserve death—but are of their own nature
pardonable. For instance, lust, rash anger, vain thoughts are venial sins.
But we affirm, according to Scripture, that there are no venial sins, none
of which we can say they do not deserve damnation. Lust is a violation of
God's law, therefore, not in its own nature venial. Matthew 5:28, "Whoever
looks on a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery
with her in his heart." Christ makes an impure glance of the eye, to be
adultery. The least tincture of sin exposes to God's curse, Galatians 3:10.
It is true, the greatest sins, through Christ's blood, are pardonable—but
none are pardonable in their own nature.
6. The sixth error in the Romish religion, is the
doctrine of free-will. Bellarmine holds that the will is
piously inclined, and that a man has an innate power to do good. But
Augustine denies this, and I think our own experience may confute it. It is
a saying of Chrysostom, "As a ship, when the rudder is broken, is carried up
and down in the sea wherever the tempest will, so man, having lost the
rudder of free-will, is carried up and down to sin where the devil will."
The papists affirm that a man has some seeds and relics of spiritual life,
and has power to convert himself. But the Apostle tells us that we are, by
nature, without spiritual strength, Romans 5:6. Sin has cut the lock of
righteousness where our strength lay. A man cannot of himself know the
things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:14. He cannot think a good thought, 2
Corinthians 3:5. Nay, there is in the will of man not only impotency
but obstinacy; our will is in rebellion against God! Acts 7:51. It is
crooked, like a piece of iron that is bent awry. It is only the sweet
efficacy of omnipotent grace, which can overcome us. We yield not to God by
surrender, but storm. We do not lay down our weapons—but they are
beaten out of our hands. Whenever God converts, He creates, which is a
sufficient confutation of the proud doctrine of freewill. "Man," said
Ambrose, "has free-will to sin—but none to conversion."
7. The seventh popish error, is their indulgences.
They affirm that the pope, as Peter's successor, has power to grant an
indulgence to men, by virtue whereof they are set free in the sight of God
from the guilt and punishment of sin. This brings grist to the pope's
mill. To give a pardon or indulgence is a flower of the crown of heaven
alone! Mark 7:2, "Who can forgive sin but God alone?" The indulgence which
the pontiff of Rome grants, is a key that opens the door to all vice.
For what do the papists care what sins they commit—when they have a license
from the pope! Roger Holland, the martyr, who was at first a Catholic and
later converted, made this confession before Bonner, "At first," said he, "I
was of your popish religion and I made no reckoning of any sin, trusting the
priest's absolution; swearing and immorality were no sins with me, because I
could have them absolved for money."
8. The eighth popish error, is their doctrine of
salvation by personal merit. They hold that their good works
expiate sin and merit mercy. Bellarmine said that a man has right to heaven
upon a double title: the one is Christ's merit, and the other his own merit.
And he brings that Scripture, 2 Timothy 4:8, "Henceforth is laid up for me a
crown of righteousness, which the Lord the just judge shall give me, at that
day." His argument is this: If God crowns our good works—then they have
merit. I answer, this does not follow. A king may confer a large gratuity
not because it is deserved—but because he has a mind to set forth his
bounty. God crowns us not for our works sake—but for His name's sake,
OBJECTION. But if God, in justice, bestows the crown—then
do not our works merit?
ANSWER 1. God gives a reward as a just judge; not to the
worthiness of our works, but to the worthiness of Christ.
ANSWER 2. God, in justice, gives a reward not because we
have deserved it but because He has promised it. The truth is that God, in
free grace, crowns those works in the court of mercy, which He
condemns in the court of justice. That good works cannot merit
1. That which merits at God's hands must be a gift, not a
debt. If a debtor pays his creditor what he borrowed, he does not merit
anything from the creditor. Whatever service we do for God is a due debt;
nay, it is but part of the debt. How then can we merit?
2. He who will merit must give God that which is perfect.
But our good works are but shining sins, they are showered with
pride, tainted with hypocrisy, so that we are far from meriting.
I conclude this from Bernard, "Good works are the way to the kingdom,
not the cause of it."
9. The ninth popish error, is their purgatory
fire. There is, said Bellarmine, an infernal place in the earth
called purgatory in which the souls which were not fully cleansed in
this life, are purged there by fire, before they can be received into
heaven. Purgatory fire the papists make satisfactory for sin; which
much derogates from the virtue and benefit of Christ's sufferings, "who
Himself has purged our sins," Hebrews 1:3.
The Scripture nowhere asserts this doctrine of purgatory.
It mentions no middle place. The wicked, at death, go immediately to
hell. Luke 16:23, "The rich man was buried—and in hell he lift up his eyes
in torment." Believers, at death, go immediately to heaven. Luke 23:43, "This
day you shall be with Me in paradise." Christ was to be instantly in
heaven, and the penitent thief was to be with Christ that very day. So that
he was in no such place as purgatory—but went immediately from the cross to
paradise. Christ's blood is purgatory in this life, 1 John 1:7. If men are
not purged by Christ's blood, there is no purging by fire. Not only the
Scripture but the Fathers were against purgatory. We do not read of two
fires, said Augustine, only of hell-fire, not purgatory-fire. But this
imaginary fire of purgatory, makes for something to sell in the pope's
kitchen. For when men are about to make their will, if they leave good sums
of money to the pope and his priests—they tell them that they will pray for
them that they may be speedily released out of the pains of purgatory!
10. The next popish error, is their praying to saints
Their praying to saints:
The papists pray to several saints for the removal of temporal evils. They
pray to St. Apolline to ease their toothache, and to St. Petronelle to cure
their fevers. They pray to other saints for the removal of spiritual evils.
One said, if we pray to the departed saints, they, being stricken with
compassion, pray to God for us. But how absurd is this! The saints in heaven
do not know our grievances. "Abraham is ignorant of us," Isaiah 63:16. When
Elijah was to be taken up to heaven, he said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do
for you before I am taken from you," 2 Kings 2:9, clearly implying
that there was no place to ask him, after he was gone.
Their praying to angels:
They bring that Scripture, Revelation 8:3, "Then another angel with a gold
incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great quantity of incense
was given to him to mix with the prayers of God's people, to be offered on
the gold altar before the throne." They say, that if the angels pray for
us—may we pray to them. I answer, the angel there is to be understood of
Christ, the Angel of the covenant, who offers up our prayers and puts His
incense on them to perfume them. Just so, Augustine expounds it. Angel
worship is prohibited, Colossians 2:9, "Let no man beguile you of your
reward in worshiping of angels." And what is praying to them but a part of
They distinguish between mediators of redemption,
and intercession. They say they pray to Christ only as a mediator of
redemption—but to angels as mediators of intercession. To this I answer,
Christ is not only a Redeemer but an Advocate 1 John 2:1. He pleads our
cause like the advocate for the client. Now, as it is a sin to make any our
redeemer, but Christ—so it is a sin to make any our advocate but Christ.
Those who pray to angels make them their advocates. That we may not pray to
angels, I prove by two Scriptures. The first is Romans 10:14, "How then
shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?" We may
not pray to any but whom we believe in. But we may not believe
in an angel; therefore, we may not pray to him. The second Scripture is
Hebrews 10:19, "Having boldness therefore to enter into the holiest by the
blood of Jesus." The argument is this: he only is to be prayed to, by whom
we have admission into heaven. By the blood of Jesus alone, we have
admission into heaven; therefore, He alone is to be prayed to. When the
angels can purchase for me an entrance into glory—then I will pray to
them—and not before!
11. The next popish error, is their image-worship.
Pope Stephen the Third, maintaining images in temples, proclaimed their
veneration, and caused the people to burn incense to them. This is contrary
to the letter of the commandment, "Do not make idols of any kind. You
must never worship or bow down to them." Images are teachers of lies;
they represent God in a bodily shape. God said, "Let us make man in Our
image," Genesis 1:16. But the papists say, "Let us make God in our image!"
When the Lord delivered the Law, the people "heard His words but didn't see
His form; there was only a voice," Deuteronomy 4:12. God cannot be pictured
by any image. You cannot picture the soul—much less God, Isaiah
40:18, "To whom then will you liken God?" The papists tell us they worship
God by the image. I answer, if it is absurd to bow down to the picture of a
king—when the king himself is present—then much more to bow down to the
image when God Himself is present! Jeremiah 23:24, "Do not I fill heaven
and earth, says the Lord?"
12. The next popish error, is that they deny that Christ
endured the pains of hell in His soul. They are very rhetorical
in setting forth the torments of His body—but they deny the sufferings of
His soul. This opinion much derogates from Christ's sufferings, Isaiah
53:10, "You shall make His soul an offering for sin." Whatever would lessen
Christ's sufferings, would lessen Christ's love to us. Jesus Christ
underwent those pains which were equivalent to the pains of hell. He felt
the displeasure of the Almighty; He was in a soul-agony when He was
deserted. All which aggravates Christ's passion all the more—and declares
His compassion to us.
13. The next popish error, is their assuming power to
themselves to absolve men of their oaths. Ecclesiastes 5:4, "When
you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because He does not
delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow." But the papists make nothing of
absolving and freeing men from their oaths. They hold that the pope has
power to dispense with all vows made to God, and oaths of fidelity to
princes. The pope, having Peter's key in his hand, undertakes to
unlock men's consciences and loose them from all their obligations. How can
that be good doctrine, which teaches men how they may be perjured, yet
innocent? You who are the temples of the living God, take heed of defiling
yourselves with these popish doctrines. Do not pollute and adulterate your
souls by joining the temple of God to the house of demons. 2 Kings 5:18.
Besides, these soul-poisoning doctrines in popery, I
shall show what a detestable religion it is—where
you may see the wrinkled face of the whore of Rome!
1. The Romish religion is an UNSCRIPTURAL religion.
The papists cannot say as much, as once the devil said, "It is written."
They have not God's Word to show, for what they do. What Scripture have they
to show, for their seven sacraments? What Scripture have they to
show, for keeping the cup from the people? What Scripture have they
to show, for their dirges and pilgrimages, going many miles to visit the
shrines of saints? The Lord will say to them at last, "Who has required
these things at your hand!"
2. The Romish religion is a CARNAL religion.
It consists only of worshipings, cringings, and penance. 1 Corinthians 3:3,
"Are you not carnal?" Whereas God will be worshiped in spirit, John 4:24.
Living by faith, examining the heart, mortifying sin—these things Catholics
are wholly strangers to. Popery is a mere external shell. It is a
carcass, which has no soul in it.
3. The Romish religion is an UNEDIFYING religion.
1 Corinthians 14:12, "Let all things be done to edifying." But what edifying
is done in their ceremonies? Their candles, flowers; their 'Hail Marys';
their incense, their beads, rings, medals, altar-clothes—what intrinsic
goodness can there be in these? They draw the heart from the serious
worship of God, causing it to mind superstitious vanities! What are
the baptizing of bells, adoring of crucifixes, and sprinkling with ashes—but
the deliriums of sick brains? Can these things purify the conscience? What
is there in holy water to wash a defiled soul? Will the papist's balm
and incense make them a sweet odor to God? Will their lighted candles show
them the way to heaven?
4. The Romish religion is a PROUD religion.
The pope calls himself Peter's successor—but he more truly exceeds him in
pomp—than succeeds him in humility. The pope of Rome sets his mitre above
all temporal crowns. He calls himself "servant of the servants of God," but
he insults princes. He makes them stand barefoot at his holiness'
gate and hold his stirrup. Pope Alexander the Third trod upon the neck of
Frederick the Emperor. The pope causes the monarchs of the earth to become
5. The Romish religion is an IMMORAL religion.
The papists are not the holy catholic church. At Rome, fornication
keeps open shop and is, in some cases, preferred before honorable matrimony.
The pope is called his holiness—but his chair is fouled. Pope Plus
the Second and Julius the Third were stained with vice. Some of their popes
have been guilty of sodomy, as Dr. Rivet relates out of their own writers.
Pope John was guilty of selling sacred things and murder.
6. The Romish religion is a TOOTHLESS religion.
It never hurts Satan. Popery is like a sword with a fine hilt—but has no
edge; or like weak medicine which will not work. Some of the popish writers
say that the cross is a holy charm or spell against the devil. But I
think that it rather invites the devil—than frightens him!
Their singing, and their prayers in Latin, is the devil's music. Their
whipping themselves, will not let out the blood of one sin. There
lent-fasts will no more starve the devil, than it does their fat monks.
7. The Romish religion is a BLOODY religion.
The pope does not content himself to have Peter's key in his hand,
the power of excommunication—but he gets the civil sword too. That
what he cannot defend by strength of argument, he may maintain by force of
violence. Popery is propagated by violence. Witness the persecution under
Pope Pius the Fourth, where multitudes of Christians were put to
death. Witness the many thousands of the Albigenses and Waldenses who were
cruelly murdered. Witness the Spanish inquisition, the massacre at Paris.
Our own nation has felt the weight of antichrist; they who would not drink
in the golden cup of Rome's fornication were forced to drink in the
bloody cup of martyrdom! We know the papists are good at fireworks.
It is an observation of a learned man that the persecutions under the bishop
of Rome have been far greater then those under the emperors of Rome. God
forbid we should ever nourish that Italian wolf which has sucked so
8. The Romish religion is a BLASPHEMOUS religion.
The papists hold:
- That the pope is above Scripture; that he may dispense
with it, and that his canons bind more than the Word of God.
- That infallibility is a jewel of his mitre; in his
pontifical chair he cannot error.
- They hold that the virgin Mary is to be worshiped; they
give her veneration. They call her "the queen of the world", "the ladder of
heaven", "the gate of paradise". They say we may appeal from God's court—to
the Virgin Mary's court. They affirm that she is at the golden altar in
heaven—not only requesting mercy but commanding it. "God has decreed to give
nothing without her," said Ozorius the Jesuit. The papists honor the Virgin
Mary above Christ, ascribing more to her milk—than His blood!
In their doxologies they say, "Praise be to God and the Virgin Mary, and
also to Jesus Christ." What Christian ear can endure to hear these
9. The Romish religion is a RIDICULOUS religion,
more fit to move to laughter, than devotion. What are their adoring of
relics—but a Romish toy! The papists pretend to show Paul's chain
with which he was bound, and the tail of the donkey which Christ rode on.
They show John the Baptist's ear for a relic in Floride, his forehead in
Spain—yet his whole head they affirm is to be seen in Rome! Thus the Roman
faith is turned into a fable!
10. The Romish religion is a GOD-PROVOKING religion.
As if the Lord were not wise enough to appoint the manner of His own
worship—they will prescribe rules to Him. This sin has made God divorce a
people. Hosea 2:2, "She is no longer My wife, and I am no longer her
husband." It has made the fury to come up into His face. Ezekiel 6:4, "I
will cast down your slain men before your idols." Seeing you will be
kneeling to your idols—I will lay your dead men at the feet of your altars!
11. The Romish religion is a SOUL-DESTROYING religion.
Worshiping the beast, and drinking the cup of God's
wrath are put together in Revelation 14:9. It is not clear to me how men
dying in the Roman religion, can be saved. For besides all that has been
said, the papists bring themselves directly under that curse, Revelation
22:18, "I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this
book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that
person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the
words of this prophetic book, God will remove that person's share in the
tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book." The
papists are guilty of this: they take away from Scripture for they blot out
the second commandment; and they add to Scripture. They say that Scripture
is not perfect; therefore replace it with their traditions, which they hold
to be not only equal with Scripture, but superior to it.
Oh, then, if we are the temples of God, let us not defile
ourselves with popery! Let us not receive the mark of the beast—either in
our right hand or forehead. For what agreement has the temple of God with
idols! It would be worse for us to embrace popery, than for our forefathers.
They lived in times of darkness and knew no better; but we, like Jonathan,
have tasted the honey of the Gospel and our eyes have been
enlightened. Therefore, if we should pollute ourselves with idols—what
judgment and fiery indignation might we expect! "Keep yourselves from
idols!" 1 John 5:21